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CM on talks for Gib Brexit deal: ‘We refuse to give up.’

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told Parliament on Thursday that Gibraltar continued to negotiate a future relationship with the European Union and that he believed agreement was still possible, adding: “We refuse to give up.”

Mr Picardo said Gibraltar, the UK and Spain were working toward a deal that sought as a key aim to protect mobility across the border after the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.

But even with a deal, Mr Picardo said Brexit would bring negative consequences for Gibraltar.

He was speaking after Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met on Wednesday night to try to break the deadlock in talks for a wider deal on the UK’s relationship with the bloc.

The two agreed that talks should continue until Sunday before deciding their next steps, but said significant gaps remained.

And on Thursday, in a sign that a ‘no deal’ Brexit is now seen as an increasingly likely scenario, the European Commission stepped up its contingency planning in the event the UK - and with it Gibraltar - crash out of the EU with an agreement to cushion the fall.

Mr Picardo said Gibraltar had approached the talks about its future from the starting point of not ceding on sovereignty, jurisdiction or control.

But he cautioned too that the negotiations touched on issues relating to immigration and customs that were as sensitive as they were complex.

He said Gibraltar was in effect seeking to negotiate “almost a negative image” of the status it had enjoyed while a member of the EU, seeking links with the Schengen area and the Customs union whereas in the past it had belonged to neither.

“Schengen is not a binary choice when you get into the details and weeds of it,” he told Parliament, without going into detail on substance given the sensitivity of the talks.

“There are issues of great complexity in respect of matters related to the future economic relationship we will enjoy with the EU.”

“The Customs Union or ‘a’ Customs Union or a bespoke free trade agreement that suppresses or minimises the need for customs friction is an extraordinarily complex set of issues.”

“These are the things that relate to the potential for maximum fluidity and that we have to work on, as are matters relating to the level playing field and non-regression in certain respects.”

“And there is a balance of benefits and responsibilities that we have to undertake in respect of every step of the negotiations.”

“The reality is that we are still talking.”

And he added: “We will continue to do so in order to reach an agreement, if an agreement is possible, until the last moment.”

“We are optimistic that we will be able to reach an agreement. And we are optimistic that our negotiating partners desire the same outcome.”

Mr Picardo said all sides in the talks were “hostages of history” and that the past had “long defined” the options for the future.

But he said Gibraltar was “inspired by the possibility” of delivering a better future “that does not condemn us to a worse relationship with our neighbours” and delivered “mutual rights” of enhanced mobility of persons and potentially also of goods.

“We continue our exhausting work and we refuse to give up,” he said.

“There is too much at stake.”

“Because we have a stake and an obligation in respect of the development of this part of the world for our children and the generations to come.”

“That means that we must be ready to seize the opportunities that this moment brings and to see beyond the past in order to stake a claim to that better future.”

The Chief Minister signalled there may be developments “overnight” and said he expected to brief both the Cabinet and the Opposition on Friday.

Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the GSD, said his party supported the government as long as any deal was “safe and beneficial” for Gibraltar, adding that the GSD had made clear its red lines.

He pressed Mr Picardo on what he believed the final cut-off date was for reaching agreement on a deal for Gibraltar.

Mr Picardo, who has previously said he believes a deal for Gibraltar can be reached even in the absence of a wider UK/EU agreement, said “there is no deadline to which we believe we must be made beholden”.

Marlene Hassan Nahon also expressed support for the government’s efforts to secure a safe deal for Gibraltar and urged Mr Picardo and his team to remain “bold, unerring and eventually successful”.

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